A Study in Self-deception
Time to take stock of our quixotic secretary of state as he ends four grueling days of shuttle diplomacy between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The purpose of John Kerry's mission: to restart peace negotiations that have remained dormant since 2010. The result of three lengthy meetings with Netanyahu and three lengthy meetings with Abbas? Zilch. Nada.
Kerry is leaving the Middle East, which he's visited five times in the last four months, totally empty-handed. Yet, at his departure press conference, the secretary insisted that he made real progress, narrowed gaps between the parties, and with just a little more work, a breakthrough could be within reach. In the meantime, Kerry left behind members of his own team to carry on the work until he returns for visit number 6 "soon."
The traveling U.S. press corps may be forgiven for refusing to share Kerry's optimism. From the start, his decision to plunge into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been an exercise redolent with hubris. Kerry seems totally oblivious of Abbas's refusal to go along with U.S. and Israeli insistence that resumed negotiations should start "without pre-conditions." Abbas instead wants to exact major Israeli concessions before talks even get under way -- like negotiations on the basis of the 1967 lines, including division of Jerusalem, a total Israeli construction freeze in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, and release of 120 Palestinian terrorist killers in Israeli jails.
The latter concession demand -- without any reciprocity -- is especially galling to Israelis because it includes a lineup of the worst bloodsoaked terrorist murderers. Israel freed more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit, but not these brutal killers. To grant their release now in the context of a mere promise to negotiate is obviously unthinkable.
Also standing in the way of advancing the peace process is Hamas rule in Gaza. Abbas can speak only for his Fatah party in the West Bank. So here's a Palestinian leader representing only half a Palestinian polity. And Hamas, that other half not represented by Abbas, happens to be unalterably opposed to any negotiations with Israel because its agenda quite clearly calls for the total destruction of the Jewish state. Anything Abbas conceivably might agree to would be immediately declared null and void by Hamas.
From the start of Kerry's mission, the gap between the parties thus seemed clearly unbridgeable to any and all observers familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations impasse -- but apparently not to Kerry. Perhaps he thinks he has the talent to succeed where previous presidents and secretaries of state have failed. Perhaps he thinks that, without some kind of process, extremists could flood into a geopolitical vacuum. And so, stubbornly, he keeps soldiering on.
But in the Middle East, history matters. The past can't just be set aside. And in this instance, history teaches that Abbas has never been disposed to achieve a realistic two-state solution. He showed his true colors in 2008 when he rejected a hugely generous offer by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to create a Palestinian state in all of Gaza, 95 percent of the West Bank, a connector between Gaza and the West Bank, and all Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem. Plus repatriation to Israel of some 20,000 Palestinian refugees.
Olmert even threw in an international directorate to govern Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem -- a directorate that would have consisted of the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Jordan, "Palestine," and Israel. Imagine Saudi Arabia having a say over the Western Wall and Temple Mount!
If Abbas ran away from the Olmert initiative, what makes Kerry believe that he can achieve a two-state solution, or even get Abbas back to the negotiating table?
As an astute philosopher once observed: Those who would ignore history are bound to repeat it. And Kerry keeps on repeating, and repeating, and repeating.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers